Feeds

Legal wigs to sort out rules on internet defamation, contempt

The law is the law, but we only have so many courts

Boost IT visibility and business value

In the wake of Lord McAlpine's lawyers threatening to sue thousands of Twitter users for libelling his name with false allegations of child abuse, as well as the multiple issues surrounding tweets that may be in contempt, the Attorney General has clarified that the same legal framework applies on the internet that applies offline.

Dominic Grieve QC told MPs on Wednesday, in response to a question from Labour politico Chi Onwurah, that the Law Commission was in fact reviewing contempt specifically as it relates to the internet.

He said:

An offence committed on the internet remains an offence. It is my belief that public awareness and understanding of this has been raised by a number of high profile cases and court proceedings over recent months. These have resulted in both fines and imprisonment for the offenders and have been widely reported.

The Law Commission is currently reviewing the law of contempt and will look at the issue of contempt and the internet. A public consultation will shortly commence.

Dominic Grieve QC. Pic credit: Attorney General's Office

In the meantime, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer is understood to be finalising interim guidelines on how offences involving social media and the internet should be prosecuted.

The Commission looked into issues of defamation on the internet prior to the 15 March 2011 publication of the draft Defamation bill, which is currently moving through pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament.

Starmer has urged police forces across England and Wales to approach such cases in a measured way to avoid what he said could end up being millions of trolling offences being prosecuted in courts across the land.

McAlpine's lawyers, meanwhile, are understood to be building a massive libel case against Twitter users. It's been reported that people who wrongly named the former Tory Party treasurer on the micro-blogging site are being asked to cough up cash or else face legal action.

The peer wants Twitter users with fewer than 500 followers to make a fixed donation - said to be £5 - to the BBC's Children In Need charity.

But for those people on Twitter with more than 500 followers, it has been suggested that McAlpine is seeking out-of-court settlement for larger sums of money that could amount to thousands of pounds for a stupid tweet or retweet that wrongly identified the lord of the realm as a child abuser.

His name was incorrectly linked to a child abuse case after a botched BBC2 Newsnight programme - which didn't name the peer - reported that a "senior Tory from the Thatcher years" had been accused of child abuse by north Wales care home victim Steve Messham.

Messham later said that it was a case of mistaken identity. He is still trying to track down the actual perpetrator and bring him to justice.

McAlpine has since agreed a £185,000 settlement plus costs with the BBC.

His lawyers are separately pursing a defamation payout from ITV1, after This Morning presenter Phillip Schofield haplessly waved a piece of paper containing uncorroborated names of rumoured child abusers that had been sourced from the internet in front of Prime Minister David Cameron on live television.

Sally Bercow, wife of Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, quit Twitter earlier this week, following a series of legal gaffes that included her wrongly tweeting McAlpine's name. An apparent hacking of her Twitter account appeared to have contributed to her disappearance from the site.

Guardian blogger George Monbiot and comedian Alan Davies are among the famous names also caught up in the McAlpine drama, after they too wrongly suggested on Twitter that the peer was a paedophile. Both have since apologised to McAlpine for their actions. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Felony charges? Harsh! Alleged Anon hackers plead guilty to misdemeanours
US judge questions harsh sentence sought by prosecutors
This'll end well: US govt says car-to-car jibber-jabber will SAVE lives
Department of Transportation starts cogs turning for another wireless comms standard
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.